Colour polymorphisms in moth

Colour polymorphism refers to the existence of multiple discrete colour phenotypes in within a species that is genetically determined. Cases are known in a wide variety of taxa. A text book example of selection on colour polymorphism is the peppered moth (Biston betularia). Black morphs of the peppered moth had a huge advantage over the typica morph during the industrial revolution, while the typica morph has an advantage in a nonpolluted environments. Recently, the causal locus for this polymorphism has been found to be the cortex gene. Similarly, colour variation has been contributed (partly) to the cortex gene in Bicyclus anynana and Heliconius species. Cortex also seems to play a role in the plasticity of wing colour in Junonia coenia (Van der Burg, pers. Comm.).


Within the family of Noctuid moths colour polymorphism is a prominent feature and is known to have differential fitness effects in various environments. We are interested in whether the cortex gene also is causal to this polymorphism in this family. Furthermore, we want to know whether the variation found in closely related species are caused by more similar mechanisms (same genes or alleles) or whether each species uses private pathways to generate these polymorphisms.


These questions are answered by capturing moths, grouping them per colour morph and using sequencing techniques to uncover potential associations between colour and genotypes. A wide variety of projects are possible ranging from field work, bioinformatics and molecular technique or any combination of these.